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Republicans Soil Reputation with Next Generation of Voters

Maine GOP sets an example, albeit a poor one, for middle school students.

In the realm of you can’t make this stuff up, students in the King Middle School “Four Freedoms” learning expedition recently received a concrete lesson in free speech courtesy of the GOP. The school served as a private meeting space for members of the Republican Party while the large-scale convention was held May 7th at the Portland Expo.

It seems when Paul Clifford, an eighth-grade social studies teacher, returned to his classroom the Monday after the convention he found that a poster celebrating the labor movement had been removed from his wall and replaced with a Republican sticker. According to news sources, the poster offered this quote from union leader Eugine Debs: “Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization born of agitation. It is agitation or stagnation.”

Upon returning to school that morning, Clifford found his labor movement poster had disappeared, replaced by a large sticker with the following inscription: ‘Workers Vote Republican.’ In addition, the teacher found a note on his desk that offered these words: ‘A Republican was here. What gives you the right to propagandize impressionable kids?’

Response to Student Collages?

iStock_000003288724XSmallClifford told reporters that the note appeared to be a reaction to several student-made collages that were displayed in the classroom. However, it seems that the group had not only left their mark on his classroom, they also had called school officials to complain about student collages posted about the room as well as copies of the U.S. Constitution they found in his classroom.

Since our constitution theoretically represents the fundamental guiding document for all government operations, one has to wonder how convention goers could find fault with such documents being present in an eighth grade social studies classroom. But then, the documents had been donated by the American Civil Liberties Union, and apparently to make matters worse in the eyes of the Republicans using the classroom, they also featured a “know your rights” section.

But while the poster and collages were in plain site, the copies of the constitution were actually stored in a closed box on the floor. When discussing the behavior of the Republicans, Clifford pulled no punches with Randy Billings at The Forecaster.

“We allowed someone to use our building,” Clifford offered noting that other teachers also reported problems with litter and stray fliers. “They came in and searched our stuff. Stole a poster. Left our building trashed. And then called us to complain about what they found when they searched our house.”

Punishments Forthcoming?

The Portland School Department has indicated that it would not seek criminal charges against the group of Republicans though going through and removing school materials clearly crosses a behavioral line that educators would not tolerate. And though Superintendent James Morse indicated the actions of the delegates set a bad example for students, he was not interested in pursuing the issue further.

“For me to file a criminal complaint against them to me seems like I would be sucked into the political game and it’s not a game I want to play,” Morse told Billings. “I think it (would be) a waste of precious taxpayer’s money to push an issue because a group of grown-ups behaved badly.”

School Committee member Sarah Thompson was a little stronger in her outrage, indicating any damage done to facilities (we would assume that would include clean up costs) should be the responsibility of those who used the school.

“I think there should be repercussions,” she said. She further noted that if the weekend incident involved students, they would likely have been punished.

iStock_000000345726XSmallGiving some hope, Christie-Lee McNally, the executive director of the Maine Republican Party, issued an apology on the party website. “The Maine Republican Party does not condone the destruction of property,” she stated nor does it encourage the lack of tolerance that these people demonstrated.”

But while the head of the party seemed chagrined, it seems some Republicans did not agree that an apology was necessary. Aroostook County Republican Jim Cyr noted that his group met in a different classroom in the school. There they found disturbing material including a bumper sticker on a classroom wall that said: “Do something nice for the environment. Uproot a Bush in 2004.”

Cyr went on to blame the media coverage for failing to provide a balanced assessment of the issues. Instead of concentrating on the removal of the poster, Cyr thought the media should focus on the larger story that children are “being used as pawns in an indoctrination war.”

A Teachable Moment

In response, Portland High School senior Simon Thompson, a student representative on the School Committee a year ago, penned a letter to the Maine GOP.

“I am not brainwashed, I am not a puppet, I am not anti-American or anti-religious,” notes the King graduate. “Paul Clifford’s class taught me to think critically, to deductively reason and, if anything, to appreciate America for all the freedoms with which I am ensured on a daily basis.”

iStock_000012634608XSmallMeanwhile, as all good teachers would, Clifford’s ultimate response was to use the incident as a teachable moment for students. He informed students that when some people believe in their own ideas so strongly they sometimes forget others have a right to their own point of view.

“This is not an opportunity to trash somebody,” he summarized. “We know this is not something that would be condoned by the Republican Party. This type of stuff happens on both sides of the party line.”

Amidst the political rancor engulfing our country, Clifford’s balance is most welcome. He even publicly noted his initial bemusement with the ‘Workers Vote Republican’ bumper sticker.

As one looks at the incident independently, it seems that the teacher asked to educate the next generation of voters is doing just what is expected of him: teaching students the importance of intelligent discontent. Too bad convention attendees have not had access to such lessons.


1 Jon Whitfield { 05.24.10 at 8:11 am }

This was a bad thing to wake up with! I’m really upset about such actions, and would be no matter what group trashed the building! I am a retired teacher and this reminds me of years ago when a group of hoodlums broke in the school building where I taught and trashed the building. The people who trashed the school building were acting like bad kids. These people should know better! At least the party leader apologized; the school leader who refused to take any action should apologize also!

2 KDAWG_IN_SJ_CA { 05.30.10 at 9:01 pm }

I think this sounds a little suspicious. The fact that they are not involving the police in an ‘obvious theft and vandalism’ incident just doesn’t sit well with me. I am not saying it absolutely could not happen, however there are a few holes in this story. The article mentions one student’s letter to the GOP of Maine, which is fine, however did they attempt to see if there were any letters to the state Democrat Offices, ACLU, or any other ‘progressive’ agencies that were indicating dislike of their practices? Where did they learn of this student’s letter? I doubt the GOP would advertise that they received a letter from a student with statements like what were written. Is it possible that the letter never was written, or perhaps that the student/teacher who did write it called the local news media, or even statewide media outlets to proclaim the ‘courage’ of a student.
Normally, in most cases that are advertised by all forms of media, even CNN, MSNBC, etc. is that when a Conservative Author, Candidate, Pundit has been invited to speak at a public venue such as a College or University, that they are shouted down by ‘enlightened protesters’ who hate their ‘rhetoric’. The area where the protesters demonstrated are more often than not left in disarray (plants trodden over, trash on the ground, and other ‘angry mob’ telltale signs), and in extreme cases, destruction of school, city, private or state property is evidence of their displeasure or victory. Honestly, it really does seem that this has been a scripted event, designed to infuriate the public. Because our school staff was so ‘high-minded’ we will never know who actually committed a crime, (if it really did happen), but being a Junior High Teacher of Math and Science, I tend to want to see facts, not just allegations, because there are a few students in my class that would have done this to play a joke, especially if they knew the political disposition of the teacher. The fact that the door was ‘unlocked’ over the weekend is highly suspect as well. As teachers we are responsible for our rooms, to make sure they are locked, clean, presentable, and above all safe. Yes, we do have a Custodian/Janitor who goes around and checks our locks, as most public and private schools do, but ultimately, if something happened in one of our rooms over the weekend, they ask, was the classroom locked as required? If there is no damage to the lock or door jam, how did they get in? If the classroom was unlocked, it makes it harder to pin down a time that this took place. It could have taken place as early as Friday night after the teacher left, or as late as Monday morning, five minutes prior to the teacher’s arrival. This article goes out of its way to say they were guilty, without any evidence – just allegations, from someone who is clearly anti-GOP. I am not happy with either party, especially my own these days, this has nothing to do with my comments on this incident. I have taken the other side, when all the evidence is an allegation of intolerance. Where are the pictures for documentation, how did they know the constitutions were there, if they were in a sealed box? It really sounds like someone with a lot of inside information wrote the letter. “A republican was here”, come on, you don’t really buy that do you? I guess if you think you are superior to other peoples or their races, I guess you could. All I am saying, rather asking you to do, is to read the article again, this time concentrating on the evidence that it was one of the Republican guests. Circumstantial evidence is just that, circumstantial, especially when there was a 55-60 hour window for someone else to commit the crime. Was anyone on campus during this time, school activities, Saturday School, school fundraisers, projects, etc? At my school, I know that there are a lot of people who are invited to use our soccer field, or softball and baseball fields for practice and games. The campus is in no way closed off, and yes, I have found students wandering the halls on the weekends when I have been on campus.
Oh well, I know that words are not going to convince you either, but hopefully our reliance on the constitution of the United States will, that we are presumed innocent, until proven guilty in a court of law. This particular teacher chose to try his case in the media, which has nothing to do with facts, and is quite problematic. Remember the Duke Lacross players who were accused of Rape, people from both sides thought they were guilty, the media’s take was guilty, guilty, guilty, and then we come to find out, that the prosecutor did not divulge evidence to the defense, and the nature of the evidence was, that the girl changed her story several times. Rape is disgusting, and perpetrators of rape should be punished to the fullest extent of the law – I would even go so far as to say life in prison, since they ruined someone else’s life, but we have to look at the facts presented, NOT just the allegations, especially when there is no documentation of the incident, besides a Teacher’s Memory. They don’t rely soley on that in court, and neither should we.
Think about it – if you were the one being accused, wouldn’t you want to see all the evidence they have against you?
The DAWG has Spoken

3 Philip G. Allen { 07.05.10 at 6:08 pm }

KDAWG is priceless. Think of the planning which would have to have gone into setting up the GOP in this scenario. Have GOP sticker on hand. Be careful to sneak into the room when the GOP is not using it. Be sure to carry off the poster and dispose of it so that no one can find it or perhaps sequester it in a place that only you can visit to recount your treacherous ruse that you perpetrated to defame the GOP. Consider the political leanings of the teacher and conduct yourself in a way which would suggest that the teacher was operating in conspiracy with the ACLU which is tantamount to treason. Also make a big thing about locking away the constitutions which were supplied by the ACLU and for God’s sake, you caught the teacher suggesting that people actually should know their rights.

4 sweet-teach { 08.04.10 at 6:07 pm }

I have to say that I’m upset either way on this one. It’s absolutely ridiculous that any such group would do such a thing and the consequences should be the same for any persons who would steal or distroy school property. I will have to say that as a teacher we are not allowed to push our bias or political views on the students. It sounds like this group wanted to push theirs and this teacher wanted to push his. The sticker that said “Do something nice for the environment. Uproot a Bush in 2004″ is down right ignorant! We don’t have to like our president but we should show respect for our country and our president, especially in an American school where we all have a right to free public education. You know if anyone had such a sticker up in their classroom about Obama they would be in big trouble. It should go both ways but it doesn’t always happen that way. Now wonder our young adults are misleaded about what’s truly happening in the world. The media can be so misleading. It may seem all fun in games to the teacher but his opinions will leave a huge impression on those students. Then again, the actions of this party will too.

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